What is UTM? How to use UTM to Create Proper Link Tracking

What is UTM?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. There are five variants of URL parameters you can use to monitor the progress of any online marketing campaign. 

The five variants of UTM are the following:

  1. UTM_source – this parameter is always required. It is the one that identifies which site sent the traffic to you. For example: utm_source=Facebook
  2. UTM_medium – this identifies the type of link, such as a cost per click. For example: utm_source=cpc
  3. UTM_campaign – this identifies the specific promotion you’re using, such as a spring sale, or back to school sale. For example: utm_campaign=back2school
  4. UTM_term – this identifies the search terms. For example, utm_term=dog+leash
  5. UTM_content – this identifies what specifically the user clicked on to bring the user to the site. “UTM_content is often used for split testing, for banner ads, or other text links. For example, utm_content=textlink.

This means the link from above would now become: http://homepage.com/landing-page?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=back2school&utm_term=back%20to%20school&utm_content=textlink

Links are a vital part of online marketing and SEO – but if you don’t take the time to create UTM tags for each of the links you want to track, you could be missing out on some valuable data that could help you make decisions about the next course of action to take with your website or marketing campaigns. Here’s a quick and easy primer on why you should implement link tracking on all your links, and how to do it with UTM tagging.

Why Track Your Links

If you want to know which one of your traffic building methods is providing the most significant payoff, you need to track your links, in practice known as link tagging.

If you link to http://homepage.com/landing-page in everything, there’s no way to know whether the most traffic came from your email newsletter, your Facebook page, your Twitter profile, or various other places you’ve dropped that link.

If you have an affiliate sales team out there working for you, you can set up a system that tracks the sales from each affiliate, so you know who is bringing you the most leads or sales.

It’s not necessary to add tracking to every single link on your website – but anything that’s part of a marketing campaign should always have tags.

UTM link tracking

Setting Up UTM Tags for Your Links

You could write everything out manually for each link, but because of how time-consuming that would be, Google has a tool for you, called the Campaign URL Builder. The URL builder tool allows you to paste in the URL, then type in values for everything else. Once those values are in place, you’ll be presented with a full link like the one above. From there, you can copy and paste, or connect it with Bit.ly to provide an automatically shortened version of your link for use on social media.

If you don’t take this step, you will not be able to track custom campaigns in Google Analytics.

What About Dark Social?

Dark social refers to traffic from social media that isn’t directly tracked within your analytics platform, and it happens more often than you think. Consider this:

Your friend sends a link to you via email, because she says you will find this particular listicle entertaining, but she can’t share it on social media because she’s at work. That link contains all the UTM parameters to make it look as though you arrived there as a result of Facebook, but you didn’t. You got there because you clicked on a link in your email. You’ve just participated in dark social. Eh, it’s not too much to worry about. After all, most of us use social to share stuff. Wrong – studies have reported that dark social accounts for up to 84% of all outbound sharing.

While Google Analytics can’t account for dark social activity, some tools can, such as Po.st, ShareThis, and GetSocial.io. Using these in combination with Google Analytics and Link Tracking can give you a clearer picture of what’s going on with your links and sharing activity.

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